Rutgers men’s basketball reappears on the national stage as the season approaches
The Rutgers men’s basketball team kicks off the 2021-2022 season in less than a month and after a relatively quiet offseason, the program is gaining more attention nationally.
After dancing for the first time in 30 years and winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 38 years last season, the Scarlet Knights bring back five of the rotation’s top eight players. This is one of the main reasons why Andy Wittry of NCAA.com included Rutgers as one of the seven teams “best positioned to pick up where they left off in 2021.” The list also includes Gonzaga, UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Memphis, Texas, and Big Ten member Purdue. Another reason given by the article for believing that RU can pick up where it left off is due to his defense, which finished No.16 in defensive efficiency by KenPom.
Additionally, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander released his pre-season countdown of the 358 Division I college basketball teams. listed Rutgers # 39 nationally. Norlander’s message to fans was “Kudos to the Rutgers loyalists, because that’s where Steve Pikiell brought your program.” Going to NCAA tournaments and being comfortably screened into the sport’s top 50 is hot, isn’t it? The Scarlet Knights are ranked 8th among the Big Ten teams, which is the same place they were chosen in the Big Ten preseason media poll. Note that UConn (No. 34) and Seton Hall (No. 37) were ahead of the Scarlet Knights, while Syracuse (No. 46) and St. John’s (No. 49) were behind them.
Previously, The Field of 68 podcast network with Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster included Rutgers in their Top 50 countdown ranking them at No.49. You can watch the full preview hosted by John Fanta which includes the head coach Steve Pikiell, Jerry Carino and myself. here.
Clearly, how Pikiell and the staff are replacing the departures of Jacob Young, Myles Johnson and Montez Mathis is crucial to continued success this season. There is no direct replacement for Young’s ability to attack the rim. Having Paul Mulcahy as the main ball player will change the offense and how effectively he can be in his increased role is key. The development of Cliff Omoruyi and his ability to replace Johnson as an effective rim defender and rebounder is also a major key. The versatility and size of the range increased with the Aundre Hyatt and Ralph Agee transfer additions. The potential contributions of Jaden Jones and Mawot Mag are also essential. Of course, the return of Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., as well as Caleb McConnell, gives this group a core of veterans who are now proven Big Ten winners with back-to-back first places in the conference. How good this team can get to be, remains to be seen, but there is more reason to believe that they will dance again in March than not.
Rutgers has already announced two sold-out sales for this season with Michigan on Tuesday, Jan.4 and Michigan State on Saturday, Feb.5 confirmed. The sold-out streak dating back to the 2019-20 season is currently nine games. The remainder of the sixteen home games at the RAC list less than 1,000 tickets available to each on the calendar page. Rocking the RAC again and maintaining one of the best home pitch advantages in the country as it was before last season when fans couldn’t attend due to the pandemic is a major key to the return of the Scarlet Knights at the NCAA tournament this season.
We’ll have extended preseason coverage starting this weekend before the season opener against Lehigh on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. ET.
In case you missed our podcast episode with Steve Pikiell from the end of the summer where he said it “will be my best team”, you can listen to it here.